AN ACADEMIC BOOK REVIEW OF DENYS HAY’S
THE ITALIAN RENAISSANCE IN ITS HISTORICAL BACKGROUND
David G. TerrellMay 28, 2010Denys Hay,
The Italian Renaissance in its Historical Background
, xii + 218 pp., 24 ill., 2 mapsCambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1961.Denys Hay’s book appeared in the early 1960s, when social history and its proponentshad begun to transform western historiography. History, particularly medieval and “early modernhistory,” was still much influenced by document-centric inquiry, still insisting on definingunique periods, and still tending to think in terms of national contexts.
Not many years later, postmodernism’s relativism would storm and rage against the “progress view of history” which,in Renaissance terms, meant Burckhardt’s book,
Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy.
It isduring this interregnum that Hay writes his book, purposely intending “to provoke an unbiasedand fresh appeal of a phase in Italian and European history which has, more than most such‘periods’, suffered from traditional and stereotyped treatment, above all by being dealt with asstatic and solid.”
Hay acknowledges that previous historians have suffered because of the large volume of detailed critical work already extant. Any historian, he asserts—except perhaps the most brilliant, short-sighted, or vain—would be daunted by the effort necessary to master anyreasonable fraction of Renaissance history.
Because of this “elephant in the room,” there is not a
1 Ernst Breisach,
Historiography: Ancient, Medieval, and Modern,
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983),356-357.2 Denys Hay,
The Italian Renaissance in its Historical Background,
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,1961), x.3 David G. Terrell, "HIST535 K001 SPR 10 Discussion Board (Re: Historiography),"
American Military University,
(May 7, 2010, https://online.apus.edu/educator/student/threadcontent.cgi?lb1753*1048044*mpos=4&spos=0&slt=cSaP0fPMgMDQs*hist535k001spr10*dg003*0002*1*reply*Threaded**(accessed May 22, 2010)). Hay, 5.